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Jailers deny beating inmate to death

Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal and a handful of corrections officers at the Washington County Detention Center are adamantly denying allegations that an inmate was beaten to death inside the jail in April.
The parents of Stewart Peppers, who died on April 29 while incarcerated at the jail, filed a $20 million lawsuit in federal court against the sheriff and his jailers in July. The suit claims Peppers died because of injuries he sustained in an alleged 20-minute beating by corrections officers at the jail.
Peppers had been in the jail for three days, incarcerated on charges including aggravated assault, unlawful possession of a weapon and the manufacture of a controlled substance.
All parties agree that Peppers was being housed alone, in a single cell on April 29 when he became incensed and began shouting obscenities at jail personnel on duty that day.
Peppers’ parents say their son endured an initial beating when officers entered his cell, then strapped him to a restraint chair and again beat him even though he was unable to move.
They also claim chemical sprays and a Taser were used on the 22-year-old.
In an answer to the complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court on Aug. 9, the defendants admit to using both a Taser and chemical spray on Peppers, but deny any beating took place.
“…the defendants used the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to try and control an extremely strong and manic individual who posed a severe threat to the officers, to himself and to the security of the WCDC,” states the court document filed by Jeffrey Ward, attorney for Sheriff Ed Graybeal and the six corrections officers named in the suit.
According to the filing, the officers entered Peppers’ cell in an “attempt to maintain discipline and to prevent him from causing further injury to himself.”
Officers said they used both a Taser and chemical spray on Peppers, but neither tool was successful at controlling the inmate.
Peppers’ parents allege the officers laid their unresponsive son on the jail cell floor at the conclusion of the alleged beating and began to perform CPR, but could not revive him. At that time, they claim, a nurse was called for help.
In response, corrections officers say nursing staff was actually contacted to assess Peppers after the Taser was deployed and while Peppers was still resisting the restraints.
“However, because of Mr. Peppers’ violent behavior, the nurse initially could not safely approach Mr. Peppers to assess him,” the document states. “When Mr. Peppers suddenly stopped resisting, he was assessed and it was determined that he had stopped breathing and did not have a pulse. CPR was started and EMS was called immediately.”
Peppers was transported by ambulance to an area hospital where he died a short time later.
The WCSO issued a press release about Peppers’ death on the same day he died.
In the press release, Graybeal said no foul play was suspected in Peppers’ death, but the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was called in to investigate, as is agency policy in such cases. The TBI’s investigation is ongoing and authorities are still awaiting the results of an autopsy.